“Aladdin” was always the most Looney Tunes of the Disney animated musicals.
Robin William’s manic performance as the genie of the lamp was more Bugs Bunny than Mickey Mouse. The Aladdin/Jasmine love story was standard-issue Disney, Jafar was the typical Disney villain, there were all the regulation Disney animal sidekicks — but Genie was what really made the story stand out.
As a result, “Aladdin” is probably my favorite of the Disney musicals, so I was curious to see how it could be brought to life on stage. “Aladdin: The New Stage Musical” is now playing at the Muny and it’s an entertaining, inventive adaptation.
The story should be familiar to anyone who’s seen the 1992 movie. Princess Jasmine (Samantha Massell), seeking to escape a forced marriage, runs off to experience life on the streets. There she meets Aladdin (Robin de Jesus), a “street-rat” just trying to survive. Jasmine returns to the palace with Aladdin determined to win her heart. He comes into possession of a magic lamp and a wisecracking genie (John Tartaglia) who could make his wish come true. That is, if the Sultan’s (Ken Page) evil advisor Jafar (Thom Sesma) doesn’t ruin his plans.
The only real change to the story comes in removing the animal sidekicks. Instead of being an annoying parrot, Iago is now just an annoying little man (Curtis Holbrook). The biggest change involves replacing Aladdin’s monkey sidekick with a trio of his buddies (Eddie Korbich, Jason Graae and Francis Jue) who serve as the show’s narrators.
Since the movie didn’t have enough songs for a full-blown musical theater extravaganza, seven songs have been added. The new songs are fine but the standout tracks remain the originals — “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali” and “A Whole New World.” The music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin.
The Muny’s third production of the season is another solid show. The cast do great work, especially John Tartaglia as Genie and Thom Sesma as Jafar. Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes are colorful and exotic. Michael Anania had some challenges bringing a magical cartoon world to the stage but the set designs were impressive. The orchestra didn’t hit a false note and the dancers didn’t miss a step.
“Aladdin” is supposed to be this season’s “children’s show” but it’s enchanting at any age. The narrators and Genie are fully aware they’re in a show and have fun playing up to the audience. There are numerous pop culture references that are going to go right over the little ones’ heads and plenty of asides designed to make a Muny crowd cheer.